Teanastëllën! Nî hâo! Ave!

Posted October 2, 2007 at 5:19pm

Fortunately, all nine new staff members in the office of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) speak English to one another while they are at work. If they all spoke the language (or two) that they know other than English, it is fairly certain no one would understand each other. [IMGCAP(1)]

Honda’s office may be the most diverse linguistically on Capitol Hill. Between them, they speak Amharic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hebrew, Spanish and Latin, among others.

Ed Potosnak speaks the language of science. He is serving in Honda’s office as the Einstein Distinguished Educator fellow, a position he assumed just two and a half weeks ago. He is now responsible for education, the environment, government reform and Japanese- American confinement sites — such as the one in which Honda lived.

He is as excited about the new elements in Honda’s office as he is about the chemical ones.

“Chemistry relates to everything,” he said, calling his co-workers “brilliant and energetic.”

Potosnak obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Rutgers University in 1996, then followed it with a master’s in education from the same alma mater. Shortly after graduation he began teaching at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in Bridgewater, N.J., where he stayed for the past eight years.

Potosnak, 35, warns Hill Climbers readers against sniffing ammonia, which he accidentally did after putting on a demonstration for his class, giving him a bloody nose.

“You know how you learn in chemistry to waft, not sniff?”

Hill Climbers never learned that in chemistry, and shook her head.

“Definitely waft!”

Gloria Chan is the legislative assistant and counsel to Honda, and she speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. In that position she takes care of judiciary, immigration, justice appropriations and commerce, among other issues. She also has the title of communications director for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, where she handles press events.

She started in Honda’s office on a fellowship from the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, and before that she clerked for a federal magistrate judge in New York City. She earned a law degree from Harvard University in 2005 and has a bachelor’s in political science from Swarthmore University.

She plays pickup volleyball and enjoys rock climbing, hiking and live music.

Hill Climbers has never met a more enthusiastic computer guy than Rob Pierson, whom Honda recently promoted to online communications director after Pierson served as legislative correspondent and systems administrator. He is the president of the House Systems Administrators Association and vice president of technology for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a D.C. group.

He boasts that Honda’s office is unique in that all staff members contribute to the Web site and that the online newsletter has a high subscription level.

“Technology is moving quickly, and I love to ride the wave,” he said. [IMGCAP(2)]

Pierson, 28, graduated from Reed College in 2002 with a degree in psychology and is looking for other “Reedies” on the Hill.

Communications Director Jose Herrera moved from Miami three weeks ago to take the job in Honda’s office. Herrera, 33, has a wife in Miami who will join him after she finishes her master’s degree in a few months.

Herrera previously worked at the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He will obtain his master’s degree in American studies with a concentration in economics after he finishes one class through Florida International University, from which he obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1997.

Herrera enjoyed surfing in Florida and is excited to do some surfing on the East Coast, though “the Potomac has been ruled out,” leaving him to search for better waters in Virginia Beach and elsewhere.

Spanish-speaking Yadira Castellanos deals with Latino affairs and other office duties as Honda’s new scheduler and office manager. A 2005 graduate of the University of Houston with degrees in political science and Spanish, Castellanos is from Houston and worked in the offices of Texas Democratic Reps. Charlie Gonzalez and Eddie Bernice Johnson. She joined Honda’s office two months ago and calls it “a great environment.”

Wendy Ho calls the office an “excellent opportunity for me to gain exposure to government at work,” something she is sure to do while handling language-related issues, disaster preparedness and homeland security as the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies fellow. From San Jose, Calif., she got a master’s in public affairs from Indiana University this year and a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in Japanese studies from the University of California-San Diego in 2003.

Ho, 26, likes traveling and going to concerts. She calls herself an “equal opportunity listener.”

Cheery Ayame Nagatini was recently promoted to legislative assistant for Honda after serving as his legislative correspondent, a promotion that Herrera said she won in “record time.” An 2005 graduate of the University of California-San Diego with a degree in political science, she interned for Honda and started out as his staff assistant when she finished college.

Nagatini, 24, said she loves D.C. because there are so many passionate people here. She has passions for all of the issues she deals with at Honda’s office, including veterans’ affairs, housing, appropriations and the Iraq War.

Ethiopian-American Selam Mulugeta handles staff assistant duties in Honda’s office, and she also is in charge of managing the Congressional Ethiopian American Caucus as Honda’s special assistant.

“We’re doing important work,” she said.

Mulugeta’s parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia, part of the reason she feels it is so important to give Ethiopian-Americans a voice in Congress. She graduated from the University of Virginia with bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and African and African-American studies in 2005, and is part of “Deltas on the Hill,” a post-graduate group of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

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